Jacqueline Matte participates in MOWA Choctaw Indians Annual Pow-Wow

Friday, April 17th, 2015 by Brian Seidman

They Say the Wind is Red by Jacqueline MatteJacqueline Matte’s book They Say the Wind Is Red, after multiple printings, remains the definitive history of the Southwest Alabama Choctaw Indians, who managed to stay behind when their tribe was relocated in the 1830s. For the next 200 years, they resisted the efforts of unscrupulous government agents who tried to steal their land and resources, and always maintained their Indian communities even when government census takers listed them as black or mulatto. A moving saga, They Say the Wind Is Red chronicles a history of pride, endurance, and persistence, in the face of the abhorrent conditions imposed upon the Choctaw by the U.S. government.

Matte, an author and historian, testified as an expert witness before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearings for federal recognition of the Alabama Choctaw. Matte still remains active with the tribe, including attending the MOWA Choctaw Indians Annual Pow-Wow, held each year in October, “like a homecoming,” Matte says. She describes that “the ceremony begins with a prayer, veterans of all wars lead the way carrying the American flag. The Pledge of Allegiance to the USA is cited by all and then everyone who wants to participates in the opening ceremony by walking around the pow-wow grounds in their regalia — then the competitive dances begin. Each dance has a name — the women dance, the men dance and children dance, to the beat of the drums. It is a spectacular sight.” Matte sent these pictures from the event:

Matte also sent a picture from her recent visit with students from Calcedeaver Elementary School; most of the Calcedeaver students are from the MOWA Choctaw Indian tribe. Matte says, “All the students were brought in and seated on the floor. I told them about the stories their grandparents had told me. They asked me questions, which determined which aspect of their history I talked about. I loved it.”

For more information on a program with Jacqueline Matte for your school or organization, contact NewSouth Books at 334-834-3556.

They Say the Wind Is Red is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Dunagan’s Secret of the Satilfa, Trouble on the Tombigbee named Accelerated Reader titles

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 by Brian Seidman

Secret of the Satilfa by Ted DunaganTed Dunagan’s books Secret of the Satilfa and Trouble on the Tombigbee have both been chosen as Accelerated Reader books for students, selected by Renaissance Learning. These are Ted’s second and third novels for middle-school readers, following A Yellow Watermelon, which was selected as an Accelerated Reading title in 2009. Dunagan is a three-time Georgia Author of the Year Award winner for his first three books, and his newest in the series, The Salvation of Miss Lucretia, has also been nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year Award.

Dunagan’s books follow young Ted and Poudlum, two boys in 1948 Alabama who bond despite their different races. Over the course of the series, the boys solve mysteries and have many adventures, often reminding themselves and their town that the similarities between them are far greater than their differences. A stage play based on A Yellow Watermelon premiered in March 2014 in Coffeeville, Alabama, with the Grove Hill Arts Council, and will be produced again this year.

Students at Wilson Hall Middle School in Grove Hill, Alabama, big fans of Ted’s books, have been involved with the Accelerated Reading Program since kindergarten. Students select books that match their reading levels, read them at their own pace, and then take a quiz developed by Accelerated Reader. The quizzes monitor and provide for teachers and students immediate feedback regarding reading performance and vocabulary growth, and prizes help incentivize the students to keep reading.

When A Yellow Watermelon was named an Accelerated Reader title in 2009, Wilson Hall teacher Annell Gordon called it “a delicious option … for book-hungry students! They will savor the adventure, mystery, and the lessons learned by Poudlum and Ted in a coming-of-age story that is set in their own back yards.”

Find Ted Dunagan’s books on the Accelerated Reader site by searching for “ted dunagan.” Ted Dunagan wrote a column about the Accelerated Reader designation for The Monticello News.

A Yellow Watermelon, Secret of the Satilfa, Trouble on the Tombigbee, and The Salvation of Miss Lucretia are all available in print and ebook from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

US Postal Service dedicates Robert R. Taylor Black Heritage stamp

Friday, February 13th, 2015 by Brian Seidman

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington by Ellen WeissThe US Postal Service inducted Robert R. Taylor, the United States’ first academically trained African American Architect, into their Black Heritage Stamp series this past week. In a ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, Taylor’s great-grandaughter White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett dedicated the stamp with Postmaster General Megan Brennan.

As related in historian Ellen Weiss’s book Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee (NewSouth Books), Taylor received an architectural degree at MIT, and was then recruited by Booker T. Washington to teach and and help design the buildings of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later Tuskegee University). Taylor’s buildings were seen, in defiance of strengthening Jim Crow laws, as a public expression of racial pride and progress. Weiss’s lush hardcover book recounts Taylor’s life and accomplishments alongside over 100 photographs, including a full pictorial catalog of Taylor’s work at Tuskegee University.

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee received the Award of Excellence from the Southeastern Society of Architectural Historians.

The Norman Transcript (OK) (via the Architectural Record) spoke with Jarrett about the honor. “Anytime I face a daunting challenge and self-doubt creeps in, I think of my great grandfather, Robert Taylor, the son of a slave, who traveled from Wilmington, NC , to attend M.I.T . in 1882,” she said. “He believed that with a good education, hard work, relentless determination and a dedication to family, there were no limits to what he could accomplish. The example he set gives me strength and courage. My family is proud to stand on his shoulders and we know that it is our responsibility to embrace his values, to ensure that his legacy will be ‘forever stamped’ in the conscious of future generations.”

Robert R. Taylor 2015 Black Heritage Stamp

Read more from the Architectural Record.

Ellen Weiss’s Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Designs for Booker T. Washington is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Birmingham’s Airport Inn bar has Alabama National Guard connection

Friday, February 6th, 2015 by Brian Seidman

Wings of Denial: The Alabama Air National Guard's Covert Role at the Bay of Pigs, by Warren Trest and Donald DoddOne of “Birmingham’s best bars” has a military connection within its long, storied history. A recent article by Jesse Chambers, “Stories of CIA missions, rats shot with pistols make Airport Inn, est. 1938, one of Birmingham’s best bars,” featured the Airport Inn bar in East Lake near the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth airport. Opened in 1938 as The Baseball, the almost 80-year-old bar still serves a thriving group of regulars.

Many of those regulars, Chambers notes, are veterans. He writes, “The bar is a long-time haunt for members of the Alabama Air National Guard, based less than a mile away at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth.”

In fact, the bar even earned a footnote in Cold War lore, when Alabama’s Air Guard played a key role in the Bay of Pigs debacle of 1961, a U.S. attempt to topple Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Guard pilots and crewman — as well as some of the workers at Hayes Aircraft Company at the airport — were recruited for the CIA-directed invasion and sent to secret bases in Guatemala and Nicaragua to train Cuban exiles that would fly B-26 bombers.

“The Air Guard members gathered at the inn the night before leaving Birmingham to go on the Cuban mission and partied there when they came back,” according to the book Wings of Denial: The Alabama Air National Guard’s Covert Role at the Bay of Pigs, by Warren Trest and Donald Dodd [published by NewSouth Books].

“Sometimes reporters went to the Airport Inn looking for a good story,” Trest and Dodd wrote. “The Birmingham warriors didn’t stand on protocol, and anyone could forget that ‘loose lips sink ships’ when the beer was flowing and the hair was down.”

Roy Wilson, one of the Guard members involved in the CIA venture, even moonlighted as an Airport Inn bartender, according to the book.

Read Jesse Chambers’s feature on the Airport Inn from, part of Chambers’s series on the oldest surviving bars in Birmingham.

Wings of Denial: The Alabama Air National Guard’s Covert Role at the Bay of Pigs is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Eugene Bullard named to Booklist Top 10 Multicultural Nonfiction Books for Youth list

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 by Lisa Harrison

Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry Greenly

2014 proved to be a banner year for the YA biography Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry Greenly, and the honors continue with the new year. After receiving two awards for YA literature — the New Mexico/Arizona Literary Award and the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award — the book has just been honored by Booklist magazine.

Booklist has chosen Eugene Bullard as one of the top ten multicultural titles for youth in the nonfiction category for 2015. The magazine says of the book, “The incredible story of Bullard, an African American pilot honored by the French yet shunned by Americans, receives a moving treatment here.” Booklist is a leading magazine for librarians searching for quality reading material for their collections.

The story of pioneering WWI aviator Eugene Bullard is known to military history and aviation enthusiasts, but is not as familiar to the general public. Larry Greenly recounts Bullard’s story from his birth in 1895 in Columbus, Georgia, through his combat experiences as an expatriate pilot in World War I and World War II, to his return to America.

Congratulations to NewSouth Books author Larry Greenly on this well-deserved recognition for his work. Read about all the books chosen at the Booklist website.

Eugene Bullard is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Episcopal Journal recounts Anniston civil rights violence with Phil Noble

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 by Brian Seidman

Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town by Phil NobleThe February 2015 edition of the Episcopal Journal offers a full-page feature on Reverend Phil Noble’s book Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town, and the events in Anniston, Alabama, that lead to the city’s formation of the Human Relations Council. With racial tension in the news and resurgent interest in the Civil Rights Movement with the release of the movie Selma, Noble’s first-hand account of the violence and reconciliation in his town remains required reading.

The Day1 religious blog also posted an excerpt from Noble’s book.

Noble was minister of Anniston’s First Presbyterian Church in 1961 when the Freedom Riders arrived in Anniston on their mission to end segregation. A mob surrounded their bus, and broke the windows, dragged out and beat the passengers, and set the bus on fire. In his book, Noble recalls that the reaction from the Anniston community was mixed. “Anniston had the capacity for racial violence that was equal to any other community in the South,” Noble writes. “Some felt the horror of the tragedy. Others said, ‘It’s too bad, but they got what they deserved.’”

The violence so alarmed Anniston’s religious, business, and political communities that they created the biracial Human Relations Council, with Noble appointed as the council chair. As the Episcopal Journal recounts, from Beyond the Burning Bus, Noble’s committee would vary their meeting times and locations for fear of those who disagreed.

“We would set a date and time for our next meeting, and then a half-hour or hour before the meeting I would call and tell members the place [to meet],” Noble writes. The group alternated between such locations as a church, the YMCA, a bank’s board room or the Chamber of Commerce. Because white and black members of the council were strangers to each other, Noble describes how he talked about the need for respect and for a sense of trust in how they dealt with one another. Eventually, Noble succeeded.

“The minister at Grace Episcopal Church told one of his members who was to serve later on the Human Relations Committee that we had gotten to a first-name basis, black and white,” Noble writes. “The member was indignant that there would be such familiarity, that blacks would call whites by their first names.”

Deeply entrenched customs pervaded the South then, and segregation still ruled. The council had mixed results in attempting to desegregate the city’s public buildings without incident or violence. An attempt to integrate the public library, undertaken with the approval of the library board, resulted in the beating of two black council members by a group of about 50 whites on the library steps. As the two attempted to flee by car, one was wounded by gunfire.

It is worth noting that, while the mayor and newly elected town commissioner supported the work of the biracial council, the police chief and most members of his force did not. Noble describes how thin a line the council members trod. “The black community thought we were going too slow, and the white community thought we were going too fast,” Noble says. “Our churches were no exception.

“One of the reasons for the success we had was that we were able for the most part to maintain that balance. We made enough progress so that the black community did not feel completely frustrated, and, at the same time, the progress was gradual enough so that the white community accepted it.”

Read the full Episcopal Journal book review at the link. You can also read an additional excerpt from Beyond the Burning Bus at

Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Tablet magazine names Matzo Frogs a best Jewish children’s book of 2014

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 by Suzanne La Rosa

Matzo Frogs by Sally Rosenthal, with illustrations by David Shelton

Mazel tov to Matzo Frogs by Sally Rosenthal with illustrations by David Sheldon. It made the “best Jewish children’s books of 2014″ list published by Tablet Magazine.

Marjorie Ingall’s round-up is a joy to read. She calls Matzo Frogs a “livelier, goofier, amphibian tour-de-force,” adding, “The book teaches kids the expression mitzvah goreret mitzvah — one good deed leads to another. The nutty frogs are bold and vibrant, outlined in black ink, against blurry backgrounds, so they really jump.”

Rosenthal’s picture book is in good company with another by Eric Kimmel, Simon and the Bear, a “shaggy-bear tale of a Russian immigrant who winds up stranded on an iceberg on Hanukkah with a polar bear.” Kimmel gave Matzo Frogs early praise. In his blurb for the book, he says, poetically, “I love this story. I laughed so hard. How do I get the frogs to come to my house?”

The frogs and the book are at NewSouth’s house. Read more about Matzo Frogs on the official NewSouth Books page, or find a copy at your favorite bookstore.

Dothan Eagle profiles Mac Otts’s compelling new memoir on race

Monday, January 26th, 2015 by Lisa Harrison

Better Than Them: The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist by Mac Otts

The Dothan Eagle recently profiled S. M. “Mac” Otts, author of Better Than Them: The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist in connection with Mr. Otts’s presentation at the Houston-Love Memorial Library. The feature recounts the story of a young man ready to assault civil rights protesters who grew to become the adoptive father of an interracial child, dedicated to improving relations between blacks and whites. The descendant of plantation slave owners, Otts was reared in the mentality of racism. His personal attitudes began changing during his college years. His memoir recounts an incredible transformation.

Speaking about race today, Otts told the Eagle:

“What if I’m a white person waiting in line at the grocery store to purchase groceries, and the person in front of me is counting coupons and I’m bothered,” Otts said. “If they’re black, is that different from if they’re white? There are a lot of remnants even with people who have overcome the primary thing of racism, and one of biggest reasons, I think, is we don’t communicate openly.”

The Mac Otts of 1965 probably wasn’t interested in talking out his issues.

Today’s Mac Otts wants others to realize how transformative honest discussions can be.

With Better Than Them Mac Otts offers a compelling contribution to the contemporary conversation on race.

Better Than Them: The Unmasking of an Alabama Racist is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Robert R. Taylor biography featured in Journal of Architectural Education

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington by Ellen WeissA new review in the Journal of Architectural Education calls Ellen Weiss’s biography of African American architect Robert R. Taylor “a vital addition to architectural history, African American studies, the history of education, history of the South, and that of campus architecture.”

In the Volume 68, Issue 2, 2014 edition of the Journal of Architectural Education, University of Miami professor Katherine Wheeler examines Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington by Ellen Weiss, published by NewSouth Books in 2012. The richly illustrated biography relates Taylor’s life and early education, but most importantly his early 1890s appointment by Booker T. Washington to the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later Tuskegee University) to teach and help design the institute’s buildings. Weiss interprets Taylor designing the buildings, as well as the students helping to build them, as a progressive act, not only bolstering the campus but also serving as a point of racial pride in defiance of strengthening Jim Crow laws.

Wheeler writes that Weiss’s book deftly details “the challenges black architects faced in the South after the Civil War, as well as underlining the importance of architecture’s role in promoting racial equality. Architecture at Tuskegee was, as Weiss rightly notes, ‘a fist against the sky’ (p. 87).”

Wheeler continues, “Taylor’s position at the institute was an important one. He was initially hired to teach drawing in addition to designing institute buildings. Weiss makes an excellent point when she notes the importance of drawing at Tuskegee. Drawing not only facilitated understanding but also the planning of the work, which would have resonated with blacks who recognized that ‘slave artisans worked under white direction alone and therefore did not plan their own work’ (p. 42). Drawing, like architecture, held power, as both Washington and Taylor were well aware.”

The review notes that Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee is a dual biography of both the architect and the school. The book is complemented by “wonderful archival images of Taylor, the students, and the buildings that capture the growth and formality of the campus. … [Weiss] is also careful to tease out the possible meanings of a building and describes Taylor’s architecture in vivid language.”

Wheeler concludes that “while Taylor may never be a household name among nonarchitects, he certainly deserves recognition in our surveys of architectural history and his designs for Tuskegee. We must include him and his colleagues to present the history of the profession in all its facets. Likewise, we must recognize as Taylor did the power of architecture as not just a setting for, but also an agent of, change.”

The Journal of Architectural Education is a publication of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA). Download a PDF of the Robert R. Taylor review.

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington, by Ellen Weiss, is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

NPR’s Here and Now interviews Voices Beyond Bondage editor Erika DeSimone

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century

Voices Beyond Bondage editor Erika DeSimone was interviewed last week on National Public Radio’s “Here and Now.” In a lively exchange, DeSimone told host Peter O’Dowd about the 19th century African American literary movement celebrated in her newly published anthology, co-edited with Fidel Louis. Only recently have scholars even begun to look at the verse that appeared in scores of black-owned newspapers dating from the antebellum and postbellum periods. Not surprisingly, says DeSimone, readers have been intrigued by the beauty and strength of the poems within the book’s pages.

“There was a whole movement of poetry writing by African Americans of the 19th century . . . almost every single black-owned newspaper in the nation carried a poetry column,” DeSimone enthused. In response to Dowd’s expression of surprise, DeSimone observed that at the start of the Civil War, roughly 10% of slaves were literate. Many black Americans during the period either learned to read and write in free schools in the North or were taught by family members and friends. In poetry, she added, African Americans gave voice to joy and pain and to the harsh experiences of their lives.

The “Here and Now” interviewed coincided with a Massachusetts book tour for co-editors Erika DeSimone and Fidel Louis. They took their anthology on the road talking to appreciative audiences at two Boston Public Library branches — Mattapan, in Mattapan, MA, and Grove Hall, in Dorchester, MA — and also to Boston’s Museum of African American History.

To hear the interview and a sample of pieces featured in the anthology, visit NPR’s “Here & Now.” Voices Beyond Bondage is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.